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I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to write about this race. Partly, I didn’t want to write an account that sounded in any way like a bad review, or anything too negative. Partly, the story is kind of personal, and I can’t write about this race without going into Personal Stuff in at least some detail. But I like to write these reports for my own records, and after reading a comment on the Lakeland Trails Facebook page this morning about someone else going through something similar to me, I thought it might be of use to someone if I were a little bit open about this stuff. So here goes.

This race was almost a DNS (did not start) on countless occasions. On almost every long run I’d make it to the one mile mark and consider turning home and dropping out. I never did. My training runs were poor at best, but I did every single one, totting up some of the highest weekly mileage I’ve ever managed. Running became increasingly difficult, and when I went to see my doctor (also a marathon runner) who said I probably wasn’t over-training, I went for some tests to work out what was going on. Two days later I got my B12 anaemia diagnosis, and my first thought was that I’d finally have a real excuse to pull out of this race.

And I was looking for an excuse. In the paradoxical world of being human, I was pushing myself out on runs of up to 20 miles, when even walking around the corner to Sainsbury’s was becoming a problem. The long runs were a nightmareish story of grumbling anxiety peppered with full-on panic – I did one 16-miler without straying more than a mile from my front door, just looping around a nearby 3-mile circuit where I felt ‘safe’. To put it bluntly: panic attacks. Daily, sometime hourly, bursts of near-death experience. As I write this I’m wondering why I didn’t just give myself a break and pull out of the race.

The panic wasn’t enough to stop me, and neither was the anaemia. I found myself in Coniston on 4th June, overwhelmed by the brightness of the sun and the greenness of the trees. There was so many people, children everywhere, bright colours and shrieking from every angle I turned. There was no peace, my mind was raging with the explosion of newness around me. I really really tried to look forward to the space of the marathon the next day, but there was only dread, and under that, utter terror. After a night of almost no sleep, I found myself at the startline at 6:45am, where finally there was peace as runners assembled all with their own nerves and fears about the day (and the heat! it was already hot!) ahead. I cried into Daniel’s chest, totally resigned to feeling too fragile to run a marathon. We had agreed weeks before that I would pull out at the first nudge of anaemia-ish symptoms – I was going to start the race, that was all. A DNF (did not finish) seemed inevitable.

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And so we were off and I was crying as we set out, but soon enough it was ok. I focussed on my steps, upon setting a gentle pace that I could keep up for a while as my thoughts slowed into a comfortable rhythm. It was ok, I was ok. Not great, but ok. Not even two miles in and sweat was dropping from my face, but the heat wasn’t really an issue; if I could deal with my head I could deal with the heat no problem. At mile 8 there was a feed station and I noticed that one lady was dropping out. I could join her. A car will be coming, I could wait and get in that car and we can go back together. I carried on, reluctantly – mile 8 seemed too soon to drop out without an injury.

We got to the beautiful Tarn Hows section and I remembered walking here on the last day of our honeymoon. We talked about all of the things, it was warm and sunny, I was totally content. I tuned in to that day as hard as I could, remembering that feeling of joy and newness, tucked away in the Lake District far from all of the normal life stuff. I chatted to a few other runners here, pushing down the nausea and battling forwards. My Garmin beeped 10 miles and a small group of us cheered – 10 miles already! Around and around Tarn Hows and then up a track past some super marshalls to find James basking in the sun with his camera. I think I felt good by this point – certainly good enough to have a joke about suncream. It was hot, and not even 10am. It was getting really hot.

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Another feed station, almost 12 miles in and just before Grizedale forest. I had been looking forward to shade: there was no shade. The sun was blazing right above, and everyone kept stopping to walk, drink, moan quietly. I stopped to reapply suncream, afraid of heat stroke, alongside everything else. This was getting hard and I didn’t think I’d be able to finish. But all the time, as always, amazing runners sharing the dregs of cheer that they could muster up. Some familiar faces from previous races, a lot of new people to talk to. The next feed station was at 19 miles – Just another 10km and then I’ll see about pulling out. I looked forward to being shuttled back and sitting in the sun waiting for Daniel to finish his half marathon. Dreams of pulling out pushed me forwards, albeit incredibly slowly.

At mile 16 I saw a marshall. It had been a very long, lonely mile or so and I was at rock bottom. He told me I was halfway. But I’ve done 16 milesOh you know these events, 26 miles is just an estimate, he replied. I had done the run last year, I knew it was 26 miles, not 32. But my spirits dropped from low to rock-bottom. The next 3 miles are a blur in my mind. I was dying the entire time, seemingly encapsulated in panic, far from anyone or anything, with no shade from the sun. I was in one of the most beautiful landscapes I’d ever run in, and I couldn’t think coherently enough to enjoy it, only feeling surges of dread all over the place as I clambered over the rocks. It was here that I encountered The Guy Who Got Me Through, though it wasn’t until later that he really saved the day. We were both in a slump – he said he’d love to be sitting at home drinking a tea. I hadn’t even had a cup of tea that day (no wonder I didn’t feel good), and all I could think of was sugary tea from there on (note: I felt too ill to eat by this point, and was relying on coke from the feed stations to get some sugar in me).

This is a long account. It was a long day.

Every story needs a hero, and there are many many heroes in this one, but my first hero (and probably that of many other runners that day) was the ninja feed station at mile 19. It was here that I was supposed to drop out – I had actually decided that this would be the case – but instead I came across a little table and two friendly people handing out water and Kendal mint cake. They had done the race before, but had decided this year to hand out refreshments to runners instead, setting up outside a friend’s house where they could use a tap all day long (bearing in mind that the official feed stations were usually tap-less, so precious water had to be shipped to us – water really was at a premium that day). Here I got chatting to a small group of people and it turned out that we were all struggling with major issues. I WAS NOT ALONE. I told them that I had decided to drop out, but that their company might be enough to see me on a little further. We ran together for a while, and stuck together on and off for the remainder of the race.

This was the turning point for me. It took 19 miles (and who knows how many hours) of journeying forwards before my mind started to calm, but I got there. By this point the heat was seriously bad, and I was aware that it would be too much for many people, but miracuolously I felt ok. I had ample water and was soaked in suncream. I also have to mention here the lovely family of one runner, to whom I’d mentioned that I was getting some chafing from my backpack. She had given her family a description of me, and as I approached them they were holding out a tub of Vaseline, complete with kind words and well wishes. I wasn’t surprised – this level of kindness and camaraderie is what I’ve come to expect on Lakeland Trails events. If you’re reading, fellow runner, thank you – and well done on such a great run 🙂

The last six miles? Easy peasy compared to the first 20. I had blisters all over my feet, I was starving hungry, I had a grumbling headache and I hadn’t had a wee for more hours than is probably safe, but I felt as if I could do it for the first time since March. I ran along chatting to the same guy who I’d met earlier (now known as The Guy Who Got Me Through since we didn’t bother asking for names), whose company and really good conversation (how is it that you can be that tired and still really enjoy a conversation?) took me from enduring to enjoying my time out on the fells. He was one of a number of really awesome people who I met – always a theme at Lakeland Trails days out!  I actually felt kind of cheerful, and when we reached the final aid station (3 miles to go!) it was a veritable festival of joy. Here I bumped into Mark (sorry I called you Jeff – was a bit delirious by this point!) who was ploughing along like a running machine, and who offered me some great words of encouragement to see me through those last couple of miles. Up a bit, then meet the lakeshore and just a couple of miles of flat from there (oh and a wall to climb over).

I petered out in the last few hundred metres and ran in a sort of ‘creeping’ style over the finish line – not the strong finish that I usually like to go for. But who cares? Somehow I’d made it, battling on past the lowest of all lows to actually gain some real positivity from the run. Ask anyone who has ever run a marathon and they will tell you that the challenge is almost completely mental. Mostly, I agree with this. But somehow this run showed something different. I had no mental strength that day, none whatsoever. The thing that got me through that marathon was the strength of others. So, while I am free to think what I want of my own mental strength, which may or may not be available at any point, at least I know that there is a goldmine of strength to be found in other people. And I really hope that I can give back as much as I take – the runner who got treated to my ‘Last few miles rap’ at mile 24 (sorry) may have something to say about that one…

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*To the tune of So Solid’s 21 Seconds, but replacing the seconds with distance as you get closer to the end…

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I’ve been running for over 10 years now, and have learned a lot of lessons on the way. I think most runners generally agree that running is awesome, and can make a positive contribution to many aspects of non-running life: from overall fitness, ability to run for the bus, self-discipline, motivation at work, being part of a great community…the list is endless. But, as time has gone on and I have seen my life and myself change in various different ways, I’ve also come to realise that there are some aspects of running that aren’t all that positive. During a long run earlier this week, which involved running 2-mile loops of York’s very flat racecourse for 2 hours, I came up with a list of less-good lessons that running has taught me: a much shorter but essential counterpart to the long list of awesome things that running has brought to my life.

1. A marathon is not a diet plan
I learned this lesson the hard way with marathon number 1. I’d gained some weight during the first months of working in an office after my MA, and while signing up for a marathon had nothing to do with losing that weight, I had hoped that it might help along the way. It really didn’t; despite the hard training, my body required some serious nourishing in response, and I got to the start line a couple of kgs heavier than my pre-marathon state. This has been consistent across all of the marathons I’ve done: the amount of training puts my body into survival mode, and I tend to gain a little bit of weight over the course of the 4 training months. Rather than trying to fight this, I’ve come to respect it, and make full and proper use of rest days to allow my body the space that it needs to recover. While running helped me lose 6 stone when I first started out 10 years ago, it now seems to have the opposite effect: when I recently took a month or so off for injury in autumn I suddenly found that my jeans were a bit too loose. Our bodies are pretty amazing, eh?

2. No matter how hard you train, it doesn’t always pay off
I’ve always worked with the mantra that the more I put in, the more I’ll get out, but running appears to be the exception to this. I’ve never worked harder than I did for UT55, and I got to the start-line feeling as ready as I could be, but at only 12 miles in things started to go wrong. The same goes for two marathons where I’ve put in a solid amount of training in the hope of a PB, only to lose out by minutes or even seconds on race day. And, as I push towards the longer distances, my ability to get close to my PB in half marathons has waned significantly. This is the risk we take with running; with all the months of hard work, early mornings, sweaty speed sessions and long runs when we’d rather be in bed or drinking tea with someone lovely – it can all go wrong in an instant. A mis-judged breakfast choice, starting out too fast, going over on an ankle, leaving it too long for an energy gel – there are many reasons why we might miss out on a time we’d been chasing, a finish line or even a start line. Accomplishing a running dream hangs on so many tiny choices and moments of fate. I’m so glad that this isn’t the case in normal life!

3. Some people are effortlessly (annoyingly) good
I’m sure we’ve all been there. You invite a non-running friend to try running, and they’re better than you before they’ve even started. Or the person who shows up to a race totally unprepared but finishes way ahead of you, despite the fact that you’ve given so much of your life over to training in the previous months. This was the case on my first marathon. Oh, and my second. In fact, I don’t think my Dad has ever trained for a marathon, but he’s still managed to come way ahead of me in all but one marathon that we’ve run together. And, miraculously, with nothing more than a week of mountain biking in the Alps as ‘training’, he managed to chop 25 MINUTES off his marathon PB at Loch Ness in September. I kid you not. The only comfort to this is that I share his genes; I just might have to wait until my 50s like he did before I start getting speedy.

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First marathon success.

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Haweswater 2012: the year my Dad had sciatica so ran the whole HM a meter behind me, telling me to run faster.

4. Running isn’t always good for you
I learned this the hard way when I discovered that what I thought had always been a way for me to manage my mental health had turned into a major source of anxiety in my life. Especially with everyone sharing their escapades on social media, it can become increasingly difficult to feel that you are ever doing ‘enough’ when it comes to running and fitness in general. You thought running four times a week was a lot, but everyone else appears to go out five times. And everyone else is doing dynamic yoga and HIIT and spinning, too. And barre, whatever that is. And while you’re relaxing on the sofa in the evenings, everyone else appears to be locked to a ‘turbo’ in their living rooms, burning endless calories even as they watch TV. And then they post a picture of their ‘breakfast’ (seriously, does anyone on Instagram eat more than 500 calories a day?) and it’s smaller than the afternoon snack that you ate yesterday before an evening meal that contained CARBS. Lots of them. I think this is a growing issue for a lot of people: getting outdoors and doing something energetic is great, but it isn’t a case of more = better. I dealt with this by unfollowing people on Instagram and Twitter as necessary, and also by writing about it on this blog. It’s a work in progress, but it has helped no end.

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Sometimes it’s more fun to just lie around.


5. 5km is a tough distance

Another lesson learned the hard way. I did my first ever 5km race two weeks ago, at my first ever ParkRun. I’ve never had any interest in this distance because I admit that I’m just not quick enough for it to be any fun. I’m much more excited to see how far I can go than how fast, hence 5km and 10km races tend not to be on my radar. But this year, I want to try pushing myself to get a bit faster. Nothing super speedy or impressive, but I do want to see my times improve over shorter distances again, even back to how they were a couple of years ago. So, I thought I’d give my local ParkRun a try. Only 5kms, how hard can it be? Whether I was naive or simply arrogant I do not know, but I set off at a comfortably speedy (for me) pace, rushing past lots of other runners and enjoying the opportunity to push myself hard from the start. About a mile in and I was feeling great, but not long after that the lack of breakfast and unfamiliar effort of running at that pace took its toll, and I wasn’t sure if I could get to the end without stopping to walk. Everything hurt, and I slowed to snail pace in the last mile, only hoping that I’d be able to make it to the end. I finished in 29 minutes, complete with lots of respect for all of those people who do a good job at running that distance. This Saturday I set off at a much steadier pace and shaved more than a minute off my time. Phew.

6. Enthusiasm is as important as talent
As I document over and over again on this blog, I love the Lakeland Trails events. I was lucky enough to win a season ticket to the Autumn series in a spot prize back at Cartmel in March, and so Autumn 2015 saw us take a number of trips up to the Lake District to take part in the four Autumn events. A couple of weeks ago my Dad texted me to ask if I’d seen the results from the Autumn series. I hadn’t, since being in the last quartile of every race I’d taken part in meant that I tried to avoid dwelling on how much slower I was than everyone else, but I took a look, just to be polite. What my Dad wanted me to see was that he’d come top in his category and eighth overall – very impressive. But when I looked at the ladies’ results I noticed that my name was also up there – a rather less impressive 20th in my category and 66th overall, but even so it felt fantastic to be so high up on the list. The fact is that it was my love for running in these races, and by no means my running skills, that got me there. And I’ll take that, no problemo.

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In my happy place

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I’d been awake for over an hour when my alarm went off at 5am on Sunday morning. Most of the night had been spent lying in wait, listening to the wind rattling the window and the woman in the bunk above me snoring. We were staying in the remote and rather magical Coniston Coppermines youth hostel, nestled just below the Old Man of Coniston and about two miles up a rather terrifying dirt track from Coniston itself. Everyone in my dorm groaned as my alarm sounded, and I got up and dressed silently by torchlight, heart heavy in my stomach: I have never felt so unprepared for a marathon, and I knew that I had a tough day ahead.

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I ate breakfast with an enthusiastic Scotsman in the empty kitchen, which reeked of Deep Heat and strong coffee (neither of which had anything to do with me). He told me, with some pride, that it was the hardest race he’d ever done; it turns out he’d run a number of extremely tough ultras, so this didn’t help my cause. But by this point I was resigned to the fact that I would run that race – it was my only chance of feeling at all ready for the UT55 in under three weeks’ time.

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The startline was buzzing quietly, in a rather pleasant 7am sort of way, and the lake glistened in the morning light. Somehow it felt different from any other race I’d done, possibly due to the early start and hence the rather small number of runners (220) and spectators, and partly because this was the first time that I expected to be running for a really long time. My only deadline was the ‘Apres Trails’ celebrations, which required me to be back at base and not comatose by 3:30pm. That meant I had over 8 hours to finish the marathon, but still I was unsure it would happen. Only three weeks before I’d been ready and eager for a marathon race, but a nasty chest infection/flu dealt a massive blow to my training, and I didn’t feel I could ever get back to where I had been a few weeks before, when I’d felt at the fittest I’ve ever been. Typical.

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We set off after a quiet countdown from 10, and I started moving slowly along the familiar tracks from Coniston Old Hall and back up towards the hostel. Not even a mile in we came to a gate, and the runner ahead of me stopped to hold it open as I came through. I thanked him; “no problem, we’ve got a long day ahead”. Already, there was something wonderfully convivial about the race, and I was comforted by his thoughtfulness rather than worried by his words. I got into a steady pace and ran quietly, listening to the chatter of those around me. It continued like this for a while, and slowly but surely the miles started to pass. I walked almost every hill, stopped to enjoy the scenery, and purposefully kept to a slow pace – this was my dress rehearsal for the big day, and I wanted to stick with the ‘training run’ attitude, rather than get carried away by the race. Many of the others around me were also signed up for the UT55, so it was easy to hold back and stick to my nice steady running. It was much more comfortable than any marathon I’ve done before, despite it being by far the hardest course.

Two hours or so must have passed before the sun started to show through, and by this point I was enjoying myself so thoroughly that it seemed as if the weather was just a reflection of my mood. It still felt like a different sort of race – I hadn’t really spoken to anyone at all, and was just enjoying some quiet contemplation and spectacular scenery around Tarn Howe and the endless fells that abandoned all signs of human existence. I was running a marathon (I kept having to remind myself) but it felt more like a meditation. Just me and the gentle slosh of my water bottles, and the footsteps of those runners who I’d managed to stick with for so many miles.

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It continued like this until mile 20, at which point we came to a checkpoint and I decided to practice changing the water in my new ultravest. Only a few meters down the road I started to feel water dripping down my side, and had to stop to fix the bottle. This process repeated itself three times, before I got frustrated and decided to empty the water out and get on with only isotonic until the next water station; the trusty runners who I’d stuck with for 20 miles were long gone, and it was looking like my hopes of finishing in under 5;30 had disappeared. Slightly frustrated, I carried on, but it was hard to get back into a rhythm at this point: my Dad had warned me that the last 6 miles was the most technical, and I was finding myself having to walk much more than I had done previously. The upside to this was that I got chatting to some of the people around me, and we helped each other through the more difficult terrain with jokes about missing teeth and lost shoes. I was still having the best time of my life, and would quite happily have continued running in this race for another few hours.

At mile 23 another water stop appeared, almost a mirage amongst the long grass and hillocks in my path – I was getting desperate for water by this point, as the sugary isotonic was everything but refreshing. The marshalls were so friendly and kind – I stopped for a couple of minutes to chat with them, and we cheered on some of the passing race runners, who had started two hours after my race and were doing amazingly well on such a tough route. Not long after this stop we descended to the side of Coniston water, and we really were on the home straights. For some reason this was the point when I really started to tire, and runners who I’d been ahead of for the entire race overtook me in this final stretch. I kept tripping over and had to walk any technical bits as I couldn’t really focus properly: I’d been running for almost 6 hours, which is by far the longest time I’ve ever taken in a race. I thought I saw a snake on the path at one point, and when I realised it was actually just a twig I knew I was starting to get a bit delirious. This wasn’t something entirely unfamiliar – during training for my first marathon I’d experienced similar things (one time I thought someone had grabbed me from behind, and turned to find no one there!) – and I knew that it just meant I needed a rest, ASAP. My watch called out mile 25 just as the path widened out and became much easier underfoot, so spurred on I pushed ahead and picked up the pace – I could still beat 6 hours if I had a good final mile. But the final mile was anything but good.

In slow motion, I started falling forwards as my feet somehow gave up from under me. Perhaps I tripped, perhaps I just really wanted a lie down, but my increased pace meant that I hit the ground with a serious wallop. Unfortunately my hands were elsewhere in my time of need, and my face hit the floor with a bang, the force pushing my head back upwards and hurting my neck. Silence for a moment, and then panic. The blonde girl who I’d been running with and encouraging on a moment ago was kneeling beside me in an instant, and I was shaking as I tried to stand, knees hurting badly as they unfolded from under me. I spat out a large amount of ‘lakeland trail’; lots of blood followed, but luckily no teeth. I was in a bit of shock as I’m incredibly squeamish and there appeared to be a lot of blood, but my saviour assured me that I was ok – my nose wasn’t bleeding and my bottom lip was still attached. I rinsed out my mouth with isotonic and carried on running shakily – as if the final mile of a marathon isn’t hard enough! Luckily the fall had also given me an adrenaline boost, and I seriously wanted to see Daniel by this point, so I pushed ahead, adamant to finish before I keeled over again.

And, to cut a rather long final mile short, I did. Rather than dipping my legs in the lake, as I’d been dreaming of for two hours, I spent the first post-race 15 minutes in the first aid tent. After some recovery shake and a large pot of chick pea tagine I was feeling a little more revived, and we sat in the sun being serenaded by Pete Lashley, on a high after a brilliant weekend that I’d been quietly dreading for a couple of weeks. Final mile aside, I’d just finished the hardest and most enjoyable run of my racing ‘career’ so far, and even in that first post-race hour I started really looking forward to my first ultra experience.

DSC02673I must have said it three times already, but this race was simply magnificent. I can’t imagine that it could be beaten in terms of route, support, friendliness and difficulty – there’s no wonder it’s up there with the world’s best marathons. A massive thank you to everyone involved, especially Coniston Mountain Rescue who provided fantastic marshalling support, and all of the other marshalls and friendly faces along the way. I am seriously looking forward to my next Lakeland Trails event…let’s hope it doesn’t get too hot and sunny between now and then!

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I work for my local Up and Running shop, and when I completed the Windermere marathon my manager asked me if I’d mind writing a review for the online blog. The blog is part of a new online running community that the company is developing, featuring advice, race reviews and more.

Of course, I was more than happy to contribute! I’ll take any chance to talk about my marathon experience!

You can read my review here.

Note: there is a slight error with the photos – these appear to be from a different race!

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I always thought myself to be a quick ‘recoverer’, almost disappointingly so! After long runs in the past, I’ve been a little stiff that afternoon, and maybe a bit tired the next day, but other than taking my running down a step or two and eating and drinking slightly more, everything has gone back to normal almost instantly.

Of course, 26 miles is much further than 21 miles, especially at a higher speed, and with all the added factors of a race. But even so, three days later and I’m still not myself, and yesterday I was so far from myself that I didn’t really function properly all day!

I promised myself to take it really easy this week: to eat what I want when I want it, to drink lots of tea if I feel the need, and to take a break from all things active until my energy levels come back to normal. To my mind it is best to wait until energy returns 100% than to push, at this stage; after all, my body has been to the very end of what it can handle, and I’m so grateful to it for taking me there, and then bringing me back.

But things haven’t all worked as I’d expected. On Monday morning I was aching all over, but it was that nice ache that reminds you that you’ve done something good, and that you’ll be back even stronger in a couple of days. I did some yoga in the amazing B&B gardens looking over the valley, and then tucked into a really huge breakfast, with plenty of vitamins, carbs and protein.

Other than the aches and pains, the one thing to really bother me on Monday was dehydration. My mouth was dry all day, even though I sipped water constantly, ate melon and grapes in the car home, and generally sat still. I was craving salt, too, and cooked up an amazing soup, which I will post on here soon.

Come Tuesday I felt physically ill. The aches had worn off for the most part (other than one of my toes, which is currently the most painful part of it all – I think the nail is going to come off soon!), but I was left without a dredge of an appetite, My stomach was upset, my head hurt, and worst of all I couldn’t think straight – as if part of my mind was missing, would be the best way to describe it! I did a decent amount of walking and worked that afternoon, and the movement seemed to help drain my body of the strange feeling, but in reality I just wanted to lie down inside and sulk!

I’ve also been sleeping like a badger in summertime (is that an appropriate analogy?), and whereas I usually wake up with plenty of energy and anticipation for the day ahead, it has taken me a long while to come around in the mornings and find my feet in my routine. In an effort to combat this, and as an attempt to get some adrenaline and seratonin pumping in my blood, I took an early morning bike ride today just for an hour or so. It was a wonderful morning (good to get it in before the heat kicks in!), and I was loving the fresh air and the views, but my legs and lungs were hating it. Still, I think it has helped to shift me a little closer to my normal self, as I do feel much better today.

So three days later I feel as if I’ve run a marathon and then pushed myself through a sieve backwards. My knees are clicky and uncomfortable, my calves feel swollen and incredibly tight, and my second toenail on my left foot is going a strange purple colour. I can’t work out what my appetite is doing, but actually it seems to be quite normal, which is a little disappointing! I knew that this week would require some real care – marathon running isn’t a normal activity for the human body to undertake, and it needs treating with respect and full attention both before and after the race itself. I expected to feel like I’d been hit by a bus for a couple of days afterwards, so then I was surprised to find myself quite comfortable physiologically on Tuesday, while also equally surprised to find that my internal organs all seemed to be giving in at the same time!

Apparently it takes one day per mile to recover fully from a race. I’m not sure when I’ll get running again (I’ve read you should wait 6 weeks but that seems a little over-cautious to me – my colleague has advised taking a week off running long distances but to get a few jogs in before then if possible); for now I’m craving fresh air and an outlet for my overload of endorphins, and cycling really did the trick this morning. My body doesn’t seem to really want to run at the moment, and who can blame it?!

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Green monsters are helping me get back to normal!

Do you have any good recovery tips? Please do share as I need all the help I can get!

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So, I did it!

Yesterday I ran my first ever marathon! People had warned me otherwise (too hilly, apparently), but the Brathay Windermere Marathon turned out to be the perfect place to start with marathon running.

I’m still on a blow-out of a high: my mind is in the clouds, back on the roads around Windermere, anywhere but here. I will try my best to summarize it appropriately – watch out, this post could be longer and more winding than yesterday’s race!

We decided months ago that driving up from Yorkshire to the Lake District and back in one day, plus running our first marathon, wouldn’t be a sensible thing to do. So I left my Mum to arrange accommodation near enough to Brathay, as well as booking a couple of decent places to eat before and after the race.

My parents picked us up on Saturday afternoon and we hit the roads, the car loud with conversation and rattling with nervous energy – I had put in hundreds of miles of training, and had invested so much in one race, while my Dad (also running a marathon for the first time) had been injured from day one, and had done practically no training other than a couple of half marathon races in the run-up to Windermere. I kept nervously asking him if he was ok, worried that he might not really be ready for such a bit physical ordeal.

We arrived in the Lake District and headed straight for the Expo to pick up our numbers and goodie bags. The Brathay 10 in 10 was going on at the same time (the last race coincided with the full marathon on the Sunday), and so the atmosphere was already quite pumped and exciting. The 18 amazing runners were hobbling around in towels with their legs strapped up with tape; seeing them boosted my confidence a little, as it reminded me that everyone here was actually just a normal person with a day job, a family and a love for running! We collected our numbers and had a chat with some of the people holding stalls at the Expo: one lady who was a running coach and had written a book about people who run over 100 marathons, and a couple who were providing the energy drink for the run. I was reassured that it’s only really hilly for the first 17 miles, after that it’s an easy ride…!

Huuge map of the route!

We piled back in the car and headed to the B&B to check in and then head out for some food. It turned out that this would be a luxury marathon experience, as my Mum had booked us in at a 5* guest house and asked for superior rooms! Far from the hostel accommodation that I’d had in mind when I’d asked her to look into it for us! The place was absolutely stunning in every possible way, and set me in a really relaxed mood for the first time in days. It had a massive, 5 acre garden, which I roamed around that evening to stretch my legs after the journey. We then headed out to a vegetarian restaurant in Ambleside, and again my Mum had come up trumps when we were faced with a menu of carbs! I had gnocchi with a tomato sauce to start with, and then spaghetti pomodoro as a main. Delicious! We arrived back quite late, but I took advantage of the complimentary camomile tea and ginger biscuits while I wrote in my diary before bed.

As I had been expecting, I slept reallyreallybadly that night. It took me ages to drift off, and then I woke up at 3am and didn’t really get back to sleep. I watched the sun get brighter through the curtains, and just waited in nervous anticipation until it was time to get up and get my running kit on! It was the first really beautiful day in ages; the birds were singing, the sky was faultlessly blue, and the mist over the valley was rising and promising some warmth for the day. Daniel went out for a run at 6am, while I sipped a peppermint tea and ate some Soreen, and worked out how exactly I was going to arrange myself. Running kit on, bags packed and hair clipped and waxed into place (my hair is always a point of trouble for me when I run – I never know how best to arrange it), we went down to an amazing breakfast buffet of cereals, juices, fruits, yoghurts and the option of a full veggie English breakfast. I reluctantly refused all the decadence, and stuck to a huge bowl of porridge made with water, with loads of honey and a banana. I didn’t even have tea as I didn’t want any reason to stop unnecessarily during the race. We then got straight in the car and headed back to Brathay, ready for the run of our lives!

Porridge!

The atmosphere was instantly wonderous, as soon as we arrived into the massive field of a car park. Everyone was in a good mood, the sun was shining, and the lake stretched out for miles behind us. It felt fantastic to actually be there, after all those months of training! The 10 in 10ers were due to set off for their 10th marathon in 10 days at 9:30, so we went to watch them have their pep talk and set off on the last leg of that massive journey. It was incredibly emotional, and I wasn’t the only one to find my eyes welling up as they huddled together in lycra, strapped up and ready for one last massive push. Little by little the atmosphere and adrenaline was working its way into my bloodstream, and I found myself looking forward to getting going on that amazing course!

Windermere is behind me

I faced the dreaded Portaloos with as much bravery as I could muster (“Daniel, quick, hand sanitizer please!!!”), had the first few swigs of energy drink and put on my running shoes: we were ready to go! I kissed Daniel and my Mum goodbye and we set off to the starting field to warm up. We heard the pre-race announcements from the organizers and then an amazing drumming band started up, and lead the march to the starting line on the main road. A lady from my running club came over to say hi, and we walked down together, enjoying the atmosphere and excitement that was surrounding us and welling upwards in a massive frenzy.

Ready to go!

I was stood a little too close to the front for my liking, but as the roads were closed I was confident that it wouldn’t really matter anyway.  My Dad asked whether my shoes were done up ok, so I tied a triple knot in the laces (which are a little too long), just to make sure. The drumming stopped and everything fell silent, the way it always seems to do just before a race, and then ‘beeeeeep’ and we were off! I wished my fellow Strider a good race and reminded my Dad to take it steady, and then there I was, running a marathon! Crossing the starting line is still so vivid in my mind; I was so aware that once I was through that was it, no turning back and, as far as was possible, no giving up. The drummers were playing again and the crowds were roaring and clapping, but I was so overwhelmed with panic, fear, and the realization that my shoes weren’t done up right, that I couldn’t relax into it and enjoy it.

The first couple of miles were always going to be warm-up miles – just to set the pace and to find my ‘running zone’. However, I found myself running as I would a half marathon; my pace was way too fast, and I was trying to keep up with the crowd, which was hurtling past me alarmingly. I was also very conscious of my shoes, which felt as if they were slopping around on my feet. As I hadn’t done a warm-up jog (the field was too bumpy and the prospect of 26.2 miles seemed to not warrant a quick jog around the car park!) I hadn’t tested how my shoes felt, and I couldn’t rid my head of the fact that they were too loose. I was uncomfortable, running too fast and massively overwhelmed, and for the first couple of miles I felt like a rabbit in headlights. I ran past Daniel and my Mum on the wrong side of the road, too, so they were unable to get a decent photo of me passing by.

I’m in the black cap at the back of the photo

At about mile 4 I had come back down to a more steady pace. I had planned to run at 10;30/mile, but I was running at 10/mile and felt comfortable – I was worried that a slower pace would actually feel less easy as I had so much energy, and so much training behind me. The route was incredibly hilly, not so much with big ascents, but more continuous ups and downs, as well as a lot of long, mild inclines that were quite hard work. We arrived in Hawkeshead and I was starting to really enjoy myself, so I finally decided to make the feeling complete by stopping to tie up my shoes – those triple knots didn’t help matters and loads of people shot past as I frustratingly fiddled with my laces! I got started again, and set my pace back up nicely, running close behind a couple of women chatting happily as they ran. I always prefer to run alone, and never ever with music, but during a race I do like to hear other people chatting away around me – it sets a good, sociable mood without me having to take any part in it!

The miles seemed to simply fall behind me, and there appeared to be a mileage sign or a drink stop around every corner! There were refreshments (water, energy drink and Kendal mint cake!) every 3 miles, and I had planned to take on water at each of these points, as I didn’t have any of my own. I took my first gulp of energy drink at mile 6, just before the biggest hill of the race which stretched right from mile 7 to mile 8. At this point I was the only one around me who wasn’t walking – I find that jogging lightly on my forefeet takes up less energy than a striding uphill walk, and morale remains high as you reach the top without stopping, too! At mile 8 my knee started to twinge, and I remained conscious and nervous of it for some miles ahead. Still, I knew things were going to hurt more with every mile, so I tried my best to enjoy being relatively pain-free while it lasted!

Energy started to wane a little at mile 9, so I took my first energy gel, which left me feeling fantastic again. The first real discomfort started at mile 10, when my feet were aching from the road. I always wear the lightest possible socks when racing, but they do tend to leave my feet feeling raw after about 10 miles, and this was no exception. Still, the miles kept coming, and I was running very comfortably behind a group from Ripley AC, who helped me keep an absolutely solid 10/mile pace.

Up until now we had run through countryside and woodland, and right down the western side of beautiful Esthwaite water, but I hadn’t had a glimpse of Lake Windermere since changing in the car park! At mile 13 we reached Newby Bridge, and here the tip of the lake shimmered out behind buildings as we ran past. The streets were lined with people clapping and cheering – it really was absolutely incredible, and I was amazed at how much I’d enjoyed myself so far, especially in light of the wobbly start! I was also feeling incredibly confident in my running, and 13 miles in I still felt as strong as I had at mile 5.

The roads had been closed to cars for most of the first 13 miles, but the second half took us up the eastern side of Lake Windermere, right along the A591 and A592. The roads were coned off at the side to make room for us, and though the traffic was passing regularly, it was all very respectful of the runners, and most cars cheered and beeped as they passed, which was very encouraging! From here much of the course is a blur, though I know I still felt strong at mile 15 as I was thinking about the first 15 mile run that I did, which was a killer fell run over Ilkley Moor in the rain and wind! Things couldn’t have been any more different on this race!

What I do remember is the long hills, and the realization that I didn’t have enough gels on me to get through without hitting zero. I remember desperately searching my bag for an energy bar and coming out with a block of dates, and I remember gnawing on them like a complete animal! Mile 17 came and the lady from the Expo was right, as the roads flattened out and houses lined the route, with massive rhododendrons in a range of amazing colours bursting from almost every garden. People were in their gardens clapping and cheering, but my humour was long gone and all I could focus on was the increasing pain in my entire body, and the many miles which were still there ahead of me.

By mile 19 I was starting to feel really bad in my knees and hips, and every step hurt. I stopped at the drinks station and the relief felt like angels singing inside my chest and legs, and the more I stopped the more difficult it was to start again. I gnawed on an energy bar and dreamed of orange juice, recovery shake and ginger beer.

At mile 21 I was set to give in. Seriously. My brain was mush, I felt sick, the muscles in my entire abdomen – from my diaphragm to the top of my groin – were burning with every breath, and somehow I couldn’t seem to get any air into my lungs. I decided to give in to my last precious energy gel, and then to the last drops of energy drink. I knew I was taking on too much water, too, but it was addictively refreshing, and I kept pouring it over my head which sent shocks down my spine and woke my mind up a little. We came to a downhill in Bowness on Windermere and I remember calling out in agony as my knees crunched under my weight. At the penultimate drinks station I topped up my bottle with energy drink – it had bits floating in it from the road and tasted horrid, but I didn’t care at all! I knew that if I didn’t get my mind back I’d be giving in very shortly, so I filtered through some subject matter to see if I could find anything that my brain would allow me to focus on. My up-coming wedding, Daniel, university, work, friends – none of these things that I so often think about on long runs triggered any sort of spark in my brain. So I decided instead to remember a time that I had felt this bad in the past. And the one person that got me through that agony got me through this one, too: my Uncle Rob, and how amazing he was, and how much I miss him.

So I continued running, and the mileage signs started to get huge. 23 miles?! No way! I passed a couple who had given in to an ice cream van en route – brilliant idea, and a shame I didn’t bring any money or I’d have joined them! I was in so much pain that it couldn’t get any worse at this point, so I kept going, one foot painstakingly placed in front of the other. 24 miles, my word. By this stage we were approaching Ambleside, and I could actually see the finish across the lake – there was a huge hot air balloon on site which we’d watched being fired up that morning, and I had a clear view of it between the trees. I ran ahead of the man in front of me and pointed it out – he grunted in recognition.

I ran through Ambleside, groaning with every curb and cobble, and almost knocked over a group of old ladies who were intent on crossing the road right in front of me. It turns out that absolute exhaustion turns me into a social nightmare. By this point I knew I had to make it, and that I’d do it much more quickly than I’d anticipated, too! I was expecting to complete the race in around 5 hours, though had optimistically paced myself for 4;30 – from my watch I could see that I’d be comfortably between the two times, and I was delighted and rather impressed with myself!

Mile 25 came, and I reminded myself that this mile was the reason I’d put myself through all of that – this was the mile I had to enjoy. And I guess I did, to some extent! I particularly enjoyed seeing the number 25 on the sign, and knowing that I’d run incredibly far! The road ahead seemed to go on forever, and helpfully (not) there was a long ascent ahead, up which I could see runners struggling even to walk in the last few hundred yards of the race. I kept running, and kept passing people limping to the finish, and I couldn’t help feeling so grateful that my agony was consistent throughout my body, and not concentrated in one joint or muscle. I was a little wary of my calves, which were so tight it felt like they might actually pop, and I was trying to decide whether a ripped calf muscle would be worth it in the end. Probably.

I turned a corner back into Brathay Hall, and saw the big yellow Mile 26 sign as if it were the sun landing on Earth right before my feet. Two men ahead of me were trying to run, but one, in a red tshirt, was struggling big time, and slowed to a sorry limp just as I passed. His friend was being so encouraging ‘just keep going, just keep going’ he kept repeating. Then I saw my Dad, with a medal around his neck, and I was so proud that I managed to find a bit of extra energy somewhere inside me. (It’s all so vivid as I type this that this paragraph might go on for some time) I kept running, up the hill, up up up, and the finish line was there, right ahead, lined with what seemed like thousands of cheering happy faces. The grass was covered with a big rope mat, but still my knees cracked and crunched under me as I ran over the uneven surface. I saw Daniel and my Mum, taking photos and cheering, and wow, this was it!

Heading for the finish line!

Then, out of nowhere, the man in the red tshirt came crashing past me, and almost knocked me to the floor! Not exactly good etiquette if you ask me. Then there was the finish line. And a medal and a really kind face handing it to me with some water. And the man in the red tshirt bent in half and dribbling onto the floor (I sort of hope he was sick, is that bad?). I wandered in a daze through the crowds and collapsed into the grass. Everything hurt everywhere, like I’d never felt before, and I just called out and drank some water and called out some more. Everything hurt, everywhere. I got up with Daniel’s help, and I remember looking into the grass and realizing that I’d actually done it – I’d actually run a marathon, and something welled up inside me and for a second I was about to cry. Then I hurt so badly that I had to walk around.

Finished!!!

I made up some recovery shake and went and stood in Lake Windermere, up to my mid calf. The rocks hurt underfoot but the cold water was fantastic and soothing. I looked out to the largest lake in England, which I had just circumnavigated and then some in 4 hours and 43 minutes, and it was shimmering and so beautiful and huge.

We got back to the B&B and I had a bath and got into the most comfortable clothes imaginable. Each individual toe was sore, my hips were bruised, the sides of my ribcage hurt to touch, the backs of my thighs felt bruised, my arm was stiff and painful from holding the water bottle. I say all this in the past tense, but it’s still true today. We snuggled up on the bed and put on a film, drank sweet tea and ate crisps and cereal bars. I lounged like this for as long as I could, then that evening we went out for an amazing meal at another amazing veggie restaurant, but this time there wasn’t any mention of pasta on the menu! Another successful choice on my Mum’s part! Watercress soup, loads and loads of fresh white bread with butter, butternut squash and goats cheese with a sundried tomato salad, gingerbread cheesecake with strawberries and a huge glass of wine. Marathon complete, wonderful day complete, fantastic marathon experience complete!

And I seriously enjoyed my veggie full English this morning!

 

So, to summarize, this was the perfect first marathon. For runners such as me, who love a few torturous hills, it was a great race. The winner came in at 2;40, which suggests that it’s not one for a PB, if that’s what you’re after, but if you love a good atmosphere, fantastic organization, and a really well-rounded racing experience, then this is the job. It was worth every 5:30 start, every painful uphill sprint, every 20 mile run, in fact, it was worth every minute that I put into it. I want to go back and do it all again just like that, but this time I’ll check my shoes first!

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This will probably be my last pre-marathon post, as we’re heading up to Windermere tomorrow ready for the race! I can’t believe it’s time to tart packing my bags, and I can’t believe I’ve just finished my final proper meal of carbo-loading! It was delicious!

Today was a rest day, and I took full advantage of that by staying in my pyjamas until 20 minutes before I had to head out to work! I did start the day with a pear and ginger smoothie (pear, cucumber, apple juice and a pinch of ground ginger) but the pear wasn’t ripe and it was pretty nauseating. I poured half of it down the sink!

It was a super-busy day at work, resulting in a late finish which I wasn’t grateful for. I gobbled down a massive cous cous salad (declared ‘epic’ by my colleague) and a bagel with peanut butter, but I wasn’t happy with the amount of water I took in today – not good as today is the most important day for fuelling up!

Back at home I got straight up against the wall again into a lovely Vipirita Karani, and then onto the mat for a nice 20 minutes of sun salutations. For some reason I’ve been completely drawn to this simple yoga sequence over the past week, and have done it every day so far. My hamstrings are so tight, and my back so tired from standing all day, that the Downward Dogs and the lunges feel heavenly! I’m hoping that this short and sweet yoga practise will remain in my routine beyond the marathon!

Tonight’s tea was simply a delight! And a delight that I won’t be delighting in too often, at that! We had pasta and potatoes with pesto, from The Accidental Vegetarian cookbook; I’m not a massive fan of potato, but this just worked, especially when teamed with broccoli, mushrooms and peas!


And now I’m looking forward to an early night and a relaxing day tomorrow. I plan to pack my things up and drink plenty, as well as go for a2 mile jog! I haven’t done such a short distance in years, and I’m wondering how it will feel – frustrating, I imagine, but then that’s the idea!

So, this is it for now – I’ll be back with a race report and general running madness next week!

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